Readers can wonder what goes into the story before it hits the streets in printed form.
The answer ranges from a little to a lot. Reporters go from typing news briefs on child care car seat check-ups, checking on crime and fire calls to writing long stories on public affairs issues, interviewing political candidates and chronicling life's tragedies and triumphs.
There are the mistakes that come with trying to publish what amounts to a book in a few hours six days a week. Writers hate to see them. Editors hate to see them. But with another edition just hours away, you move on to the next deadline.
There are always deadlines. And typos and grammar errors, while egregious, especially for English instructors, will be used for multi-purposes such as wrap for those pumpkin innards at carving time.
More importantly there are times when readers question why a story or photograph is published at all.
Several weeks ago, The Dispatch published stories regarding fetal alcohol syndrome. I was the author. Undoubtedly, few question the importance of the issue. But a reader took us to task for choosing a black baby for the photograph that ran on the front page.
She had some good points. Our area, while noticeably increasing in diversity, is still predominantly white. There are Asian, black and American Indian of equal importance and abilities in the lakes area. My neighborhood alone in northeast Brainerd is an inclusive one of different races and ages, which is a positive reason to live there.
Ultimately, a goal for newspapers is to reflect the communities they serve. More racial diversity should mean a variety of faces and people represented in our pages.
But race should not be a deciding factor in determining a story. The story depends on the people who are telling it and their experience and their lives. Often examining a social issue with such difficult overtones as fetal alcohol syndrome means talking to people who are willing to share hard aspects about their lives.
It takes considerable courage to admit to personal mistakes and even more to offer that experience for the greater good via newspaper pages that are seen by thousands of strangers.
Reporters are people who attempt to translate those personal experiences into words and images. While the fetal alcohol syndrome story included comments from women who were white, American Indian and black, the woman who was willing to be photographed and not just quoted happened to black.
A white woman in the group was more concerned that she would be known in the area and subject to possible consequences. She was willing to be quoted but not named or photographed.
Without Shannon's willingness to share her personal story, readers are denied understanding a complex and often painful issue. Photographs bring readers to stories and provide an immediate connection to the words. Should the decision to include that photo be based on the color of an individual's skin because people -- who already possess a bias -- may use this as fuel for a stereotype?
Perhaps there is not an easy answer. As it happens there rarely is. But getting the important information about a child's well-being was an overriding factor. And in a perfect world the child's future regardless of color is of tantamount importance to the reader. Drug addiction is one of the things that hits people regardless of race. Alcohol abuse crosses race and economic distances.
Without people who are willing to talk about the issue, the entire subject is without a voice. And choosing people or excluding their stories based on their skin color is a step in the wrong direction.
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